It's been said, time and again, that we can never let go of the dreams we harboured while growing up.
After all, the teenage years of our lives could be summed up as the formative years, when at the cusp of adulthood, we devise the lives we would like to lead.
In India, boys in that age bracket end up wanting to play professional cricket, for it's all they see around them, from parks to playgrounds, roads to rooftops, the game is omnipresent.
Still, goaded by their parents and well-wishers, most choose to let go of their boyish fantasies and hop on the "Pehle engineering fir MBA" bandwagon.
Others, however, hold their dreams dear and are busy milking their passion for the sport into something more constructive.
This is where age-group cricket gives impetus to a lot of aspiring cricketers, to gain a head start from the rest of the pack and tread the waters of seriously competitive cricket.
Notably, age-group cricket has served teams handsomely over the past couple of decades, churning out talents at will and instilling in them, the desire to play a long innings for the senior men's national team.
As the 2020 ICC Under-19 Cricket World Cup nears, we jog down memory lane and list the cricketers who had played the Under-19 World Cup first, before they found a place in the senior men’s national side.
No surprises there! The poster boy of Indian cricket today, and the captain across all formats, first shone when he had captained India to the 2008 Under-19 World Cup triumph in Malaysia.
Kohli had just started his first-class cricket back then, with 630 runs from 11 matches for Delhi at an impressive average of 45 under his belt, before the World Cup got underway.
He fared decently in that tournament, accumulating 235 runs from 6 matches, with an unbeaten century against the West Indies in the group stages being the highlight of his performance. Notably, it was Kohli's demeanour, the unflinching aggression painted across his face at all times on the field, which became a talking point in the years to come.
Importantly for India though, Kohli's naturally aggressive game also found expression in his captaincy, as he was praised by experts for making some brave bowling changes throughout that tournament.
Buoyed by the tactical acumen shown by Kohli during the Under-19 World Cup, the selectors were quick to initiate the then 19-year-old into the senior men's national side.
He was picked for the tour of Sri Lanka in August 2008. His initial struggles against the moving ball notwithstanding, Kohli enjoyed an extended stint with the MS Dhoni-led side, which allowed him sufficient time to transition from youth to senior cricket.
By the time the 2011 world cup came around, Kohli had cemented his place in a batting order which had Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh in its ranks.
If cricket is indeed the “Gentlemen’s game”, there isn’t a more thorough embodiment of all that the sport is, or should be, than Kane Williamson. Case in point being his conduct on the field, and off it, after New Zealand lost to England in the 2019 World Cup final by a contentious boundary count rule which many deemed to be arbitrary and unjust.
Amidst the agony of losing the biggest match of his career, Williamson kept his composure and helped the team ride out the phase where they must have felt cheated.
It’s only fitting then that Williamson is captaining New Zealand in international cricket, earning Blackcaps the moniker of “Nice Guys”.
Williamson’s tryst with captaincy is as old as that of Virat Kohli — he was leading the Kiwis in the 2008 ICC Under-19 World Cup, the same edition which India won under Kohli.
New Zealand lost to India in the semi-finals of that tournament. Nevertheless, Williamson had done enough for himself in age-group cricket and he made his ODI debut in the 2010 tour of India.
Williamson played 13 Youth ODIs for New Zealand Under-19s, scoring 322 runs at an average of 29.27.
By the time this article gets published, chances are that you've witnessed Stokes' whirlwind 71 off just 47 deliveries and his bowling effort of 3/35, which sealed England’s 189-run victory over South Africa in the second Test at Newlands, Cape Town.
If not, you probably wouldn't have missed his herculean effort in the third Ashes Test at Headingley last year. Stokes was unbeaten on 135 and aided by a defiant Jack Leach — who hung on and fended 17 deliveries — helped England pull off a miraculous chase of 358 with one wicket to spare, levelling the five-match series against Australia 1-1.
If still not, you certainly wouldn't have missed his lung-bursting 84 not-out in the 2019 ODI World Cup Final against New Zealand which just didn't seem to be enough, until a superior boundary-count helped the hosts to their maiden ODI World Cup trophy.
However, before all of Stokes' heroics for the England senior national side, the all-rounder who bowls right-arm fast was honing his skills playing youth and age-group cricket, first for Durham and then for England Under-19s.
Stokes was part of the England team at the 2010 ICC Under-19 World Cup and even struck a century against India in the group stages, England winning that match by 31 runs. In the quarter-finals, England played against West Indies and Stokes had returned with figures of 3/29, before contributing 22 runs with the bat. England however, couldn't chase down the Windies total of 166 and were bundled out for 148, thus bowing out of the tournament.
In his Under-19 career, Stokes has 289 runs from 12 matches, at an average of 28.90. He took 8 wickets from 11 innings at a decent average of 33.50.
Pakistan’s late resurgence in the 2019 ODI World Cup saw them win their last four matches and enliven their chances of qualifying for the semi-finals. While that didn’t materialise, Babar Azam’s star shone brightly as he finished with 474 runs from eight innings.
In doing so, Azam broke Javed Miandad’s record of most runs for a Pakistani batsman in a singled edition of the World Cup.
While today, Azam continues to break new ground as a Pakistani batsman – he became the fastest from his country to 3000 ODI runs when he struck an unbeaten 101 against New Zealand at the World Cup last year – the seeds of his batting genius were sown in age-group cricket.
Azam has been Pakistan’s top run-scorer in two Under-19 World Cups, in 2010 and 2012. While Pakistan lost the final of the 2010 edition to Australia by 25 runs, they bowed out of the quarter-finals of the 2012 edition, losing to India by one wicket.
Azam’s record in Youth Under-19 ODIs reads 1271 runs from 35 innings at a healthy average of 38.51. In a country famous for its prodigious fast bowlers, Azam’s example offers hope that Pakistan's age group cricket can provide world-class batsmen for the national team.
Smith’s is another name which came to the fore owing to his impressive performance in age-group cricket.
He was part of the Australian squad for the 2008 ICC Under-19 World Cup, the same edition where Williamson and Kohli were leading New Zealand and India respectively.
While today, Smith is known for his batting prowess, his early days had him plying his trade primarily as a right-arm leg-spin bowler. At the 2008 Under-19 World Cup, Smith accumulated 114 runs with the bat and took 7 wickets from four matches. Australia had reached the quarter-finals, where they lost to Pakistan.
More importantly for Smith, he earned a call-up to the national side and made his debut for Australia in 2010 against the West Indies. Today, Smith is regarded as arguably, the best batsman to play for Australia since Sir Donald Bradman. That is further evidenced by his 7227 Test runs from 73 matches at an average of 62.84.
A sure-footed batting technique complemented by wily medium pace has seen Mathews emerge as a more than a handy all-rounder for Sri Lanka.
Moreover, his continued presence in the side, first as a captain, and then as a senior figure, was important as Sri Lanka went through a transition phase, brought on by the retirements of two of its batting stalwarts – Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene.
In 2013, Mathews earned the distinction of being the youngest Test captain for Sri Lanka at 25 years of age. He had been groomed for that post for two years with the senior side.
What also helped him stake claim to the post was the fact that he had captained Sri Lanka in the 2006 ICC Under-19 World Cup. While Sri Lanka lost in the quarter-final of that tournament to Australia, Mathews continued to earn acclaim in age-group cricket and two years later earned an ODI debut on the tour of Zimbabwe.
In Youth Under-19 ODIs, Mathews accumulated 677 runs from 32 matches at a healthy average of 37.61 and took 15 wickets averaging 38 with the ball.
The diminutive wicketkeeper-batsman, who’s become synonymous with Bangladesh’s rise in international cricket over the years, made his Test debut during the 2005 tour of England as a 16-year-old.
That happened, owing largely to Rahim’s performances in age-group cricket – he had toured England the previous year with Bangladesh Under-19s, scoring 88 in the second Youth Test at Taunton.
Following a forgettable outing in England, Rahim returned to age-group cricket and captained Bangladesh to the quarter-finals of the 2006 ICC Under-19 World Cup.
Under his wings in that Bangladesh Under-19 squad were players like Shakib Al Hasan and Tamim Iqbal, both of whom would go on to cement their place in the national side, as would Rahim.
Rahim played 18 Youth ODIs for Bangladesh Under-19s, scoring 432 runs in 16 innings at a brisk average of 36, with three half-centuries.
Quinton de Kock
A precocious batting talent, Quinton de Kock’s big-hitting skills were on full display when he topped South African batting charts at the 2012 ICC Under-19 World Cup.
De Kock opened the batting for the Proteas in that tournament, and accumulated 284 runs from six matches at 47.33, with the best score of 126.
An ODI debut followed soon after against New Zealand in 2013. While de Kock couldn’t do much in his earlier matches and was subsequently dropped, he struck his maiden ODI century against Pakistan in November of the same year.
He then struck three consecutive ODI centuries against India and sealed his spot as an opening batsman in the Proteas line-up. His glovework has improved by leaps and bounds and today, he is the first-choice wicketkeeper for South Africa across all formats.
De Kock’s statistics from his Under-19 days read a staggering 1409 runs from 30 Youth ODIs, at an average of 48.58. More importantly, his strike rate of 98.53 is the stuff of legends.
While most cricketers use first-class cricket as a platform to showcase talent, Holder found age-group cricket more to his liking. The Barbados native had played just one first-class match when he was selected in the West Indies squad for the 2010 ICC Under-19 World Cup.
Holder was the leading wicket-taker for the West Indies in that tournament with 12 scalps from five matches at a stellar average of 17.75.
An ODI debut was waiting to happen as Holder was included in the squad for the 2011 tour of Bangladesh. However, he didn’t get a game. The all-rounder finally made his debut in Australia in 2013.
Holder went on to become the youngest West Indies captain at 23 years of age. He has also captained the side in the Test and T20 formats.
Taylor is easily one of the better batsmen to come out of Zimbabwe, ever since the likes of Alistair Campbell, Andy Flower and Grant Flower hung their boots.
He’s made his mark with the bat, while also being the first-choice wicketkeeper for the most of his career. Among the factors which enabled Taylor’s selection was his experience in age-group cricket – he had played two Under-19 World Cups for Zimbabwe.
By the time he made his debut in 2004, Taylor had scored 348 runs in 11 Youth ODIs for Zimbabwe Under-19s, averaging 38.66 with the bat.
Taylor’s ODI debut was also expedited after a mass player exodus in 2003-04 had forced the country’s cricket board to hurriedly patch together an inexperienced squad which would square off against the visiting Sri Lankan side.
Since then, the wicketkeeper-batsman has been an obvious selection for the national side and was even made captain in 2011, as Zimbabwe endured some of its most trying years in international cricket.
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